Senior Send Off
The Rams return home looking to recapture momentum before they ship off to Pittsburgh. When George Mason visits on Saturday, they’ll be witness to VCU’s senior night. The blended class of 2017 features only two recruits who were a part of the same recruiting class (JeQuan Lewis and Doug Brooks). Another two were a part of the class a year prior but were partial qualifiers (Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess). A former walk on (Torey Burston) and possibly a junior college transfer (Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed). Coach Will Wade said of Hamdy, “He won’t be participating on senior day” but was non-committal after that. He could potentially get another year of eligibility.
It’s unlikely any of these players will get their jerseys hung in the rafters at the Siegel Center but the class of 2017 is one of the most pivotal graduating classes in VCU basketball history. Four of the five signed on to play for Shaka Smart, a man who at the time was a living legend at VCU. The Final Four was still fresh in the minds of fans back then and no doubt these recruits. They decided they would be the guys who would buy into this program and help it grow. That commitment was tested when Smart finally left in 2015. This group stayed together during a time when an entire recruiting class abandoned their original letters of intent, and Hamdy decided he would hop on board during this time.
This group of five was in no small part, the reason Will Wade’s transition was immediately successful. I have no doubt Wade would have found success fairly quickly at this school but to maintain the streak of then five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, that would have been in serious jeopardy without these guys. Their mistakes and shortcomings over the last four years have been well chronicled; however what I’m going to remember about these guys is there loyalty to the program and more impressively how they helped their team transition so successfully to the next great coaching regime at VCU. I apologize if that sounded a little too much like a eulogy to the class of 2017. They still have work to do and one enormous goal to accomplish, extending that NCAA tournament streak to seven for the next group to take care of.
Seed Hurdle VCU
George Mason has long been out of the tournament discussion but this game has substantial meaning to them. With a 9-8 conference record the Patriots could finish anywhere from 5-9. Every spot in the A-10 tourney is still subject to change, save for Dayton’s 1 seed. At this juncture it would be pointless to go through all the different scenarios so let’s just say, generally being a 5 seed is better than a 9 and I’m sure GMU feels that way.
Last Time Out
You might have forgotten by now, these two schools did meet for their first conference game of the season, way back on December 30th. VCU achieved victory in Fairfax, 73-64. At over two months, you might think what happened in that game is no indication of how this contest will be played, however the box score looks exactly like most VCU box scores from league play. JeQuan had a better than usual day with 26 points, that probably won’t be replicated but you wouldn’t bat an eye at any of the other numbers. Mo and Tillman combined for 19 points, 20 rebounds and 5 blocks and Johnny Williams attacked the basket for 12 points. As a team they scored 46 points in the paint and shot 50% from the field, despite a mediocre 3-13 from range.
In that match up the Rams took their first lead 17:08 to go in the first half and never relinquished it. Despite VCU leading for nearly all 40 minutes, the game was tightly contested. Wade’s guys never led by more than 11 points, most of the game was spent around a 4-7 point margin. Mason was very much competitive in this first meeting.
The Patriots want to play the same way VCU does, Coach Wade pointed that out recently when he mentioned GMU was the most similar team in the league to the Rams. The stats bear that out; the schools are 3-4 in the league in field goal % and 4-5 in the league in FG% defense. GMU is a better 3 point shooting team than VCU, making 34% to the Rams’ 33%, but neither of those numbers inspires much fear. Both groups emphasize crashing the boards and no one does it better than Mason. They have the best rebound margin among A-10 schools, VCU ranks 4th. If you thought Coach Wade’s group has a turnover problem, Mason Coach Dave Paulsen would disagree. His guys’ rank 13th in the league in turnover margin compared the Rams who are 5th.
Shake It Off and Lock It Up
I didn’t believe it when I read it but GMU’s 6-2 Guard Marquise Moore is the A-10 leading rebounder with 10 per game. Justin Tillman is second with 8 per game. They also have the player with the highest FG% in the conference, Jalen Jenkins. A 6-7 forward, Jenkins converts on 62% of his shots. Tillman and Mo rank just behind in 4th and 5th place. Possibly the most significant difference between these two schools is defense, where VCU ranks third and George Mason ranks 9th. Part of the issue is Paulsen’s team lacks a true rim protector; they play with relatively undersized bigs leaving them vulnerable defensively.
These two teams may be similar but that difference is why Wade’s group is built to take advantage of the undersized Patriots. It’s why Mo and Tillman experienced success in the first contest and also guards Williams and Lewis were able to slash inside effectively and put up easy baskets. It’s why the Rams made 20 trips to the free throw line versus 8 trips from the Patriots.
After two losses it’s time to get back in the winning column, to lock up the two seed in the A-10 and ensure the Rams stay on the right side of the bubble. It’s time to send off five seniors into the correct postseason tournament against an old CAA rival these players only know as an A-10 rival.